It was an epic weekend, one that tested my patience, my sanity and my navigational skills. Over the course of two days, I was pushed to the absolute limit, before being dangled over the precipice for an extended period as my knuckles turned white. Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived. Having seen ‘The Sixth Sense’ several times, I’m not entirely sure if I survived. That’s because I spent a whole weekend watching sport. In Bendigo.
I’m not really a sports fan. I realize that’s an odd thing to say, but I’m profoundly averse to investing emotionally in something over which I have absolutely no control. Plus, as a kid I went to the football with my father and witnessed firsthand the kind of emotional mayhem that comes with supporting the Essendon Football Club and it put me off the idea for life. But some are born to sport. Others have sport thrust open them. That’s how I ended up in Bendigo.
I realize that some people will be drawn to speculate as to which sport I devoted my entire weekend. Darts? Polo? Or some kind of revolutionary combination of both darts and polo that sees riders hurl small metal missives at each other as they canter from one end of the paddock to the other? Unfortunately not. Instead, I went to watch soccer. Played by ten year olds.
I know. The first thing about watching soccer in the company of other people who really, really like soccer is that you mustn’t, under any circumstance, call it ‘soccer’. In fact, calling it ‘soccer’ – even if only by accident – is the quickest way to reveal that you’re a total and utter fraud. Rather, the beautiful game must at all times be referred to as ‘football’.
We were attending a soccer / football tournament somewhere north of Bendigo. As we travelled, Liam celebrated his tenth birthday in the backseat of the car by confiscating my phone and selecting a playlist. The results were not so much musical as they were harrowing. Before our trip, I’d heard the name ‘Bo Burnham’ in passing. Now I hope never to hear it again. Ever.
We drove through town whilst being tailgated by a large, white Mercedes driven by a lady with massive sunglasses and even bigger hair. Clearly, she’d travelled up from Melbourne. According to Katrina, who was navigating, we were nearing our destination. Then, without warning, I saw the words: ‘Bendigo Pottery’. It was a sign. Albeit one that just said ‘Bendigo Pottery’ but a sign nevertheless. Finally, I could redeem myself.
My parents owned a bread crock from Bendigo Pottery. I’ve no idea why. A ‘bread crock’ is, as names go, about half right. In essence, it was a giant ceramic jar with a lid in which you stored your bread. Occasionally, bread would go into the bread crock and return in a state I can only describe as ‘green and furry’. The only thing worse than owning a bread crock, though, is owning a slate floor.
I was ten at the time. Instead of playing soccer (I mean ‘football’) I was playing ‘Charlie’ in the Tyabb Primary School production of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. During our sold-out run of two shows, I tapped into Charlie Bucket’s heart of darkness and delivered an acclaimed performance for the ages. But it left me exhausted. It was whilst in this fugue state that I dropped the lid of the bread crock at which point it fractured into a million pieces on the slate floor. Now, four decades on, I had a chance to get a new bread crock.
That idea lasted about five seconds, with five seconds being roughly the amount of time it took for me to mention that I’d really like to go to Bendigo Pottery and for Liam to remind me it was his birthday and there was no chance in hell he’d be spending it looking at pottery. He smashed my dreams as surely as I had smashed the lid to the bread crock.
The tournament was a big deal. There were cars everywhere and you could tell how uncomfortable some were to drive on gravel. Others were shocked at the distance required to reach the nearest comfort station. One parent decided to take matters and possibly something else into his own hands and wandered off into the long grass to answer a call of nature. It seemed an unnecessary risk. They probably don’t get many snakes in his part of Melbourne.
On the first day of the tournament, I watched four football games. Which doubled my lifetime total. Liam’s team won all four matches. On the second day, there were two more matches, the first of which they won, the second of which they lost in a penalty shootout. There was crying. There was wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Some of the children were also upset. Eventually, I pulled myself together.
I may not know much about soccer / football, but I know I felt extremely proud that day as we drove back to Melbourne, a giant white Mercedes tail-gaiting as we went. It was an epic and wonderful weekend. Even if losing on penalties is a complete (bread ) crock. Happy birthday, Liam.